‘Spying’ charges against Trump couldn’t be more absurd

President Trump’s rise drove a subset of American conservatives to sheer derangement. Symptoms have included unaccountable reversals of political positions and a burning desire to defeat every single sitting GOP officeholder.

Now we can add new symptoms to the list: paranoia about state persecution. Benjamin Wittes recently succumbed to this malady. He ­bizarrely claims that Team Trump spied on him by … circulating his tweets inside government.

Wittes, the editor of a national-security blog popular with elites, is mostly famous for repeatedly predicting Trump’s downfall over the past three years. “Boom!” he’d tweet at every leak and pseudo-revelation from the Mueller probe, often with an image of a cannon going off, as if to suggest that this bombshell would finally take down Trump; none did.

The “collusion” scandal having failed to achieve Wittes’ aim, the consummate Washingtonian ­invented his own.

Last week, Washington Post ­intelligence correspondent Shane Harris published a report about the big, nasty Trump regime persecuting Wittes. The blue-check Twitterati couldn’t resist it. It seemed to confirm all their fantasies about Trump killing democracy in America — not to mention their own delusion that their tweets make them the equivalent of anti-Nazi heroes and whistleblowers like Jan Karski or Raoul Wallenberg.

What had the evil Trumpian ­regime done? The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of ­Intelligence and Analysis had disseminated three open-source-intelligence reports that summarized tweets written by Wittes and New York Times reporter Mike Baker. The internal communiques also mentioned the publication of leaked DHS documents by Wittes (warning officers against leaking) and Baker (suggesting that DHS didn’t have a full grasp of the insurrection in Portland). That’s it.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf quickly directed the discontinuation of “information involving members of the press,” according to Harris’ own reporting. The department’s intel chief was reassigned. (Harris, by the way, cohosts a podcast with Wittes, a glaring conflict of interest that apparently didn’t rankle his editors at The Washington Post.)

The DHS action didn’t satisfy Harris’ friend Wittes, who favorably quoted a critic excoriating DHS’s purported “unlawful surveillance.” This was, Wittes said, nothing less than intelligence “collection . . . based on purely First Amendment-protected activity.”

This week, Wittes followed up with a lengthy blog in which he fleshed out his belief that his mere inclusion in the open-source-intelligence reports meant he was being surveilled by the feds.

That is a leap that would make Evel Knievel proud.

At the risk of stating what would otherwise be obvious in non-deranged times: Public officials internally circulate public statements and writings from writers, scholars and intellectuals. They do it all the time. Such readily foreseeable and, indeed, desirable, actions don’t in any way “chill” journalism or amount to, in Wittes’ terms, a nefarious “monitoring” of “First Amendment-protected activity.”

On the contrary, it’s an obvious goal of reporters and opinion columnists to do precisely that: to have their work cross the desks of government officials and to meaningfully impact the government debates. When public officials pay close attention to what the media say — that’s a good thing.

Does anyone even remember Hillary Clinton’s divulged e-mails that showed her circulating and ­effusively praising the work of Max Blumenthal — the son of longtime Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal and a virulently anti-Israel author — as “smart,” “so good” and “powerful and touching?”

Is it Wittes’ serious contention that Team Obama eerily “surveilled” Max Blumenthal because the then-secretary of state fawned over his pro-Hamas drivel in electronic correspondence?

In the Trump era, ideologically driven civil libertarians have an incentive to play the roles of victim and martyr as never before. When our elites universally accept that the president is a fascist, that his administration is committed to quashing out all civil liberties, then it is cheap political fare to “martyr” oneself for the adoring leftist masses.

By any measure, we are living in intellectually unserious times. One symptom of our doldrums, personified by Benjamin Wittes, is vainglorious play-acting and attention-seeking. The US Department Homeland Security is no Gestapo, and Wittes is no Karski.

Josh Hammer is opinion editor at Newsweek. Twitter: @Josh_Hammer

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